The Botai culture is an archaeological culture (c. 3700–3100 BC) of prehistoric north-western Asia. It was named after the settlement of Botai in today's northern Kazakhstan. The Botai culture has two other large sites: Krasnyi Yar, and Vasilkovka.
The Botai site is on the Iman-Burluk River, a tributary of the Ishim River. The site has at least 153 pithouses. The settlement was partly destroyed by river erosion which is still occurring, and by management of the wooded area.
David W. Anthony connects the Botai culture to the eastward migration of peoples from the Volga-Ural steppe in the mid-4th millennium BC, which would lead to the establishment of the Afanasevo culture in South Siberia.
The occupations of the Botai people were connected to their horses. Some researchers state that horses were domesticated locally by the Botai. It was once thought that most of the horses in evidence were probably the wild species, Equus ferus, hunted with bows, arrows, and spears. However, evidence reported in 2009 for pottery containing mare's milk and of horse bones with telltale signs of being bred after domestication have demonstrated a much stronger case for the Botai culture as a major user of domestic horses by about 3,500 BC, close to 1,000 years earlier than the previous scientific consensus. Botai horses were primarily ancestors of Przewalski's horses, and contributed 2.7% ancestry to modern domestic horses. Thus, modern horses may have been domesticated in other centers of origin.
The pottery of the culture had simple shapes, most examples being gray in color and unglazed. The decorations are geometric, including hatched triangles and rhombi as well as step motifs. Punctates and circles were also used as decorative motifs.
Current research is being conducted by Alan Outram of Exeter University in association with other institutes, the Bristol (UK), Winchester (UK), and Kokshetau (Kazakhstan) universities, and the Carnegie Museum. Along with students, Outram conducted a magnetometer survey of the Botai site in 2008, and is looking into conducting further research into the Botai culture's role into the development of horse domestication.
Asko Parpola suggests that the language of the Botai culture cannot be conclusively identified with any known language or language family. He suggests that the Proto-Ugric word *lox for "horse" is a borrowing from the language of the Botai culture.[a] However, Vladimir Napolskikh believes that it comes from Proto-Tocharian *l(ə)wa ("prey; livestock").
Damgaard et al. (2018) extracted aDNA from three different Botai individuals. Two of them turned out to be male, and another one was female. Two of the samples were taken from crania curated in Petropavlovsk Museum, denoted as "Botai Excavation 14, 1983" and "Botai excavation 15".
Autosomally, the Botai population turned out to be closer to the Ancient North Eurasian component than the Yamnaya population. They are show share more ancestry with East Asians. No significant gene flow between Botai and Yamnaya was observed.
Botai 14, dated to 3517-3108 cal BC, carried a derived allele at R1b1a1-M478. Botai 15, dated to 3343-3026 cal BC, belonged to the basal haplogroup N*-M231. Regarding mitochondrial DNA, the Copper Age Botai sample BOT2016 belonged to the haplogroup Z1a, Botai 15 - to R1b1, and Botai 14 - to K1b2.
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